Director, External Relations
UF plans $11-million bid to fight academic 'brain drain'
Hoping to boost morale and stem the exodus of top professors, Florida's largest public university will set aside more than $11-million in tuition revenue for faculty merit raises and staffer cost-of-living increases.
University of Florida president Bernie Machen called the merit plan, announced Friday, an "attempt to stem the brain drain" of professors who are leaving state institutions like UF for jobs in states where the financial and political support for higher education is more stable.
Under the plan, UF's more than 8,300 staffers will get cost-of-living raises of 2 percent or $600, whichever is greater, starting with their Sept. 19 paychecks. The pool of money available for faculty merit raises will be expanded by 3 percent, and deans will decide how to dole out the money. That means some of UF's 5,285 faculty members could get raises of more than 3 percent, while others could get less.
The faculty and staff unions would have to agree on the conditions of the raises, said university spokesman Steve Orlando. The state's budget for 2008-09 does not include raises for state employees.
Machen said he anticipates some criticism from faculty and staff members who would rather see the tuition revenue used to avoid layoffs or to fill vacant positions.
"But I look at this as an investment in what we have," he said. "It's not a huge amount of money for one individual. But we needed to show the employees that even in bad times, we're focusing on our priorities and putting the faculty and staff above everything."
Florida State University administrators are exploring similar faculty raises and staff subsidies to cover the rising cost of food and fuel.
All of Florida's public schools are in a difficult spot these days, with their annual budgets shrinking by tens of millions of dollars, thanks to Florida's declining economy.
Meanwhile, research institutions like the University of South Florida are trying to boost their performance and national profile — an achievement that depends largely on top faculty.
In recent months, dozens of professors have left the state university system for places like Vanderbilt, Northwestern and the University of South Carolina, where administrators are unabashed in their plans to "poach" from Florida.
By giving out raises, Machen hopes to send a message to his employees, whose morale he concedes is low.
“People can handle short-term difficulty. The thing that's beginning to worry people is, 'Will it be this way for five or 10 years?' " he said. "We're trying to show, 'Hey, it's awful right now, but we're still giving out raises.' "
Shannon Colavecchio-Van Sickler can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3403.